No pill or potion can guarantee you a long life filled with good health. Modern science has discovered, however, that people who follow certain commonsense health practices tend to live longer, healthier lives than those who don't. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has outlined a list of diet, exercise, and health objectives for Americans. Get a jump on the rest of your life by committing yourself to making the following changes in your lifestyle today.
Eat a variety of foods
As you age, you might need less energy, which means fewer calories. But you still need 40 nutrients best provided by food. A healthy diet can help reduce your risk for osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, and certain cancers. The critical part of a healthy diet is variety. Fruits and vegetables supply fiber and a wealth of essential vitamins and minerals. To make sure you are getting a variety, choose fruits and vegetables in a range of colors. Milk and dairy products are packed with calcium, but be sure to select low-fat varieties. Lean meats, fish, poultry, and dried beans provide protein, but don't overdo—two 3-ounce servings a day are adequate. Whole-grain breads and cereals supply fiber and complex carbohydrates and should make up the major part of your diet. Avoid or limit foods with lots of calories but few nutrients, such as chips, cookies, soda, and alcohol.
Maintain a healthy body weight
Obesity, defined as having a body mass index of 30 or greater, puts you at greater risk for a variety of health problems. These include heart attack, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, and cancer. Eating too many calories or not being physically active enough to burn the calories you eat will make you overweight. To maintain your weight, balance the calories you eat with the energy you burn. To lose weight, you must use more calories than you eat. To control weight: eat smaller portions at each meal, drink less alcohol, be physically active, choose low-fat and low-calorie foods, and drink water instead of sugary beverages.
Regular exercise can help you become physically fit, decrease your risk for falls, stay mentally alert, and keep your bones strong. You don't have to run marathons to stay in condition. For aerobic exercise—exercise that increases your heart rate—take a brisk 30-minute walk or swim or bicycle for 30 minutes most, if not all days of the week. As long as the activity is at a moderate to vigorous level, you can workout in ten-minute increments. That can be enough to keep your heart and major muscle groups in adequate shape. On two or more days a week, do muscle strengthening activities that work all major muscles groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms). For optimum fitness, add stretching and strength-training regimens to your aerobic workout. If you've been inactive, use a sensible approach and start out slowly. For more exercise options, visit the CDC website.
Get plenty of sleep
Both your mind and body need adequate sleep. The American Geriatrics Society (AGS) says older adults need at least seven to eight hours a night. People who don't get enough sleep have trouble concentrating, remembering things, accomplishing daily tasks, and handling stress. Too little sleep is also associated with greater risk for motor vehicle accidents, and health conditions such, as obesity, diabetes, and heart problems.
Brush and floss your teeth
Tooth decay and gum disease can be painful and disruptive. Fortunately, a program of good dental hygiene that includes brushing and flossing at least once a day can help prevent most serious problems.
Wear your seat belt
Seat belts save lives. Be sure you and your passengers buckle up every time you get in the car, even for short trips in your neighborhood.
Drink alcohol only in moderation
In excess, alcohol can damage your liver, pancreas, brain, and heart. It can also increase your cancer risk. If you do drink, stay within the limit. The AGS says that is one drink per day for older men and a half-drink daily for older women. One drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, six ounces of wine, or 1 ounce of distilled liquor.
Cigarette smoking, or chronic exposure to secondhand smoke, can lead to a host of diseases. These include heart attack, hardening of the arteries, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and cancer. Women who smoke have earlier menopause.
Keep your immunizations up to date
Don't think shots are strictly for children. Adults up to age 64 should have one tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis booster and after that a tetanus/diphtheria booster every 10 years. Adults age 65 and older should have a diphtheria-tetanus booster every 10 years. All adults older than 64 and others at high risk should get a one-time vaccination against pneumococcal pneumonia. Everyone 6 months and older should have an annual seasonal flu shot. Vaccines for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B are also recommended for at-risk individuals. Your health care provider can recommend when these vaccinations are required.
In addition, the CDC recommends that older adults receive two doses of the varicella vaccine if they haven’t been previously vaccinated or had chickenpox in the past.
A single dose of the shingles (herpes zoster) vaccine is recommended for adults 60 and older regardless of whether they have had an episode of shingles. Shingles is a painful, localized skin rash, often with blisters, that is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles because VZV remains in the nerve cells of the body after the chickenpox infection clears and can reappear years later, causing shingles. Shingles most commonly occurs in people 50 and older, people who have medical conditions that keep the immune system from working properly, and people who receive immunosuppressive drugs. For more immunization information, please visit the CDC website.
Practice safe sex
Although sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are more common in people younger than 50, you may be at risk for STDs if you or your partner has other sexual partners. Common STDs are herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. You can protect yourself by using a latex condom every time you have sex until you're in a monogamous relationship with someone whose sexual history you know.
AIDS is another disease that's transmitted sexually. By using a condom, you can prevent an infection by the virus that causes AIDS. According to the CDC, in 2005, 15 percent of newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases in the U.S. were in people 50 or older. In addition, more people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS are living longer.
Make the most of your health care visits
It’s important to see your health care provider regularly and get any recommended health screenings. For each doctor visit, make a list of questions you have, as well as a list of all prescription and over-the-counter medications and herbal products you take.
If you have several chronic health problems, consider seeing a geriatrician—a doctor with special training in treating older adults. You can find one by visiting the AGS website.
Make time for activities you enjoy
Besides making for a dull life, all work and no play can lead to health problems.
Stay involved in the community in ways you enjoy. Go where people are active in ways that appeal to you, whether religious, civic, or social. You'll find voluntary organizations are eager for people who are willing to help.
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